Thursday, June 22, 2000

Judith Lavoie

p. A01.

Province beefs up custody of teens

Wide-ranging powers to lock up high-risk young people enmeshed in a world of drug abuse or prostitution will be set out in a bill to be introduced next week.

The controversial concept of locking up children and youth against their will was recommended by the province's secure care task force two years ago, but Children and Families Minister Gretchen Brewin and her predecessor Lois Boone delayed bringing in legislation, saying more consultation was needed.

Brewin said Wednesday that more than 200 groups and individuals have been consulted and the new law — which will not be proclaimed for several months — will include a set of rights for youth.

"For the first time in B.C. we will have the power to get young people with life-threatening problems off the streets and to give them a chance at a better tomorrow." she said.

Sometimes young people living in horrendously dangerous situations reject the help they desperately need and, until now, there has been nothing anyone could do, Brewin said.

"If the bill seems like a hard one, it's better than the alternative for these kids. We are talking about keeping kids safe. This is about saving lives."

Unlike Alberta's legislation, B.C.'s secure care act will not be limited to prostitution, but will include other forms of self-harm, such as severe drug addiction.

An independent secure care board and a director of secure care will be appointed by the province.

In emergency situations, police, family and friends, Ministry for Children and Families staff and community service providers will be able to refer a young person to the director of secure care who can detain the youth for up to 72 hours in a secure care facility.

The criteria to be used by the director and board are that other options have been exhausted and the young person is at risk of serious harm.

A parent, guardian or the director can then apply to have the youth detained for up to 30 days "for safety assessment and planning."

In exceptional cases the board can extend the detention twice more, meaning a youth could potentially be locked up for three months.

The bill has the support of numerous street and youth organizations, but there are some remaining civil liberties concerns, said Brewin.

"This is only for the very extreme cases when nothing else has worked. It's a last resort and the criteria are pretty stringent," she said.

It is anticipated that only about two dozen young people a year will have to be detained, although numbers are uncertain.

The aim is to concentrate on kids between the ages of 12 and 16, Brewin said.

Although the age of majority is 19, by the time someone is in their late teens they have a sense of what they are doing to themselves, she said.

The delay in proclaiming the bill will allow several facilities around the province to be renovated for secure care, staff to be trained and follow-up programs to be put in place at a start-up cost of $10 million, she said.

Safeguards to protect the rights of young people include the right to legal counsel, comprehensive assessments and care plans to be filed with the children's commissioner, and the youth advocate will be told about every secure care hearing.

Pat Griffin of the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society said he is in favour of secure care, but there are caveats.

"There are certainly circumstances where secure care is needed, where (young people) are not making sound judgments, either because of their mental capacity or because of alcohol and drugs," he said.

An example would be a 13-year-old working as a juvenile prostitute and 72 hours would be enough to get her away from her pimp and into a safe place, Griffin said.

"We have seen cases where secure care would have made the difference between living and dying."

However, one person should not have the power to decide on locking someone up, even for 72 hours, said Griffin, who would like to see such decisions made by teams of social workers and police officers.

Liberal opposition critic Linda Reid said secure care is necessary, but only if it is part of a continuum of care, including detox and recovery programs.

"This is much bigger than locking kids up. This must be part of a network of services," said Reid, who added she is not optimistic the NDP government has put any of the backup services in place.

"They have had nine years and they haven't put the building blocks in place," she said.

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Created: June 7, 2001
Last modified: June 10, 2001
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